Factories in the Countryside: the Industrial Workforce and Social Division in Nantong County, 1895–1937

In recent years, several studies of factories in cities such as Shanghai or Tianjin have examined the working and living conditions of a predominantly female workforce in the urban context during the Republican period. However, large-scale industrial enterprises had been established already in the late nineteenth century which for the first time introduced factory work to the countryside. Studies by Hershatter, Honig and Perry have examined how workers in the city responded to the requirements of factory work, and how labour protest was organized and related to the emergence of a working class. (Hershatter, 1986; Honig, 1986; Perry, 1993) Since factory workers in the countryside operated under a very different set of conditions, it is pertinent to ask how factory work was organized in this particular environment, how workers from the village perceived factory work and what were the socio-economic changes it brought to their daily lives.